As you might have heard, Satya Nadella is now the CEO of Microsoft. As an NITKian, I’m outraged that a guy from down the highway from my alma mater made it before any of my seniors did.
As left-leaners, some people are outraged at our need for Western validation. Right-leaners say it is the government which has failed the people by not providing them the environment that enables our own Microsofts to emerge. People are all outraged by their Facebook feeds being full of fawning articles from the Indian media. Some of the more vocal ones are sharing that other article that says Indians emerge in the global arena only after they eschew their Indian roots and hence we shouldn’t be celebrating them.
None of them are wrong.
And Satya Nadella being anointed the CEO of Microsoft is still a good thing for India and Indians.
First of all, do you realize the magnitude of Microsoft as a global brand? Yes, you can laugh at Bing and Zune, but holy hell, everyone uses a PC. Tons of people connect using MSN Messenger and Hotmail. People game on an XBox. Kinects are common gifts these days. Lumia is a coveted phone. Yes, that shocks me too. But the user base is on the magnitude of Insane.
So you have this population that’s probably roughly half the electrified people of the world. A good proportion of them, mostly in Europe, I’d wager, probably have racisty opinions about Indians. Anywhere on the scale from Australian skinhead to folks who say ‘Curry Nigga’ to folks who say ‘I’m not racist, but these Indians smell’ to folks who say ‘Say something in Indian’ to Adriana Peral.
And now they’re pretty much forced to use devices and services owned by a brown guy.
Nah, you still can’t respond to snide remarks about your rapey country with ‘but we made your phone/kinect/xbox’.
But it changes people’s perceptions. Slightly.
Like when there’s this guy chatting you up in a bar and he can’t come up with anything more than ‘I love Indian food’, you say ‘And I’m sure you like your Kinect too, Microsoft is run by an Indian’.
And when I’m doing standup, I don’t anymore have to try hard to never call my ethnicity into question because now there’s new stereotypes I can get people to recognize, not the filthy old ones all brown comedians fall back on.
And when I do improv with someone ignorant and racist, they might choose to make Microsoft CEO jokes instead of terrorist jokes.
And when my friend goes to meet his WASP girlfriend’s parents, they have something to go by other than ‘Isn’t India unsafe for women?’.
There was never any glass ceiling in the computer industry, especially not in some of the biggest companies. As an aside, I find that in the ‘biggest and best’ places, there seems to be a lot more diversity than lower in the totem pole. You meet people from ethnic groups and communities you’ve probably never run into in your entire life in those places. What Satya Nadella achieved isn’t a big deal in the software industry.
But outside the software industry, there are all sorts of barriers that come up when you’re brown. This sort of global recognition of an Indian does a lot to bring at least some of them down among some section of the populace. And you can’t ignore that.
Yes, Indian government has failed us. Our mindset is too risk-averse to consider beginning an independent venture, given the uncertainty we face about a lot of things everyday. But that is something we should fix at home. Indians doing well elsewhere isn’t an excuse to stop doing stuff at home. If anything, we should take help from our successful diaspora to achieve new heights in our country.
Coming to the point of our relentless need for western validation…. yes, we need us to have our own Indian standards of excellence. But until that day comes, you know what standards of excellence we have? Western ones. Even if you don’t think they matter, the rest of the world judges you, knows you on those. So, yes, Lagaan, though I consider it a stupid film, making it to the top 5 in the Oscars is an achievement. So is Miss India winning Miss World/Miss Universe. And Nina Davuluri winning Miss America. It made the world look at us differently. It opened up new opportunities for our movies, our actors, our models.
So no, Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams are not our countrymen; they gave up their Indian citizenship gladly, and Ramakrishnan says nationality is an accident of birth and possibly doesn’t consider himself Indian, but yes, we can claim them as our own. They are brown and visible. They make things better, if only slightly, for the rest of us.
This is one kind of ‘soft power’ India has. No, it isn’t the sole preserve of Bollywood or chicken tikka masala.
So the next time you whine about yet another article fawning over Nadella, realize this. It doesn’t probably matter to you, in India. Not right away anyway. But it matters a little to those of us in far away countries, who want to help our curious neighbors understand us better.
And NITK seniors, you let a Manipal guy upstage you?